Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Indie filmmaker does it his way in metro area

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Photos courtesy of Sujewa Ekanayake⁄Wild Diner Films
In a scene from Sujewa Ekanayake’s ‘‘Date Number One,” John Stabb Schroeder (of the D.C. punk band G.I.) is ‘‘Just Another Ninja Searching for Love” and Jewel Greenberg, his blind date.
Sujewa Ekanayake takes pride in keeping his craft pure and relatively simple. The 34-year-old Kensington filmmaker describes his latest film, ‘‘Date Number One,” as ‘‘an ultra-low⁄no budget, D.I.Y. (do it yourself), real indie, self-distributed feature filmed in the Washington, D.C., area.”

The ‘‘comedy about several first dates,” self-produced and distributed via his own Wild Diner Films label, Ekanayake says, ‘‘is made up of five different stories.” He notes that various reviewers have called it ‘‘witty,” ‘‘funny” and ‘‘sexy, sexy, sexy.”

The idea for the film came from ‘‘a funny scene involving a date” in his previous film ‘‘Wild Diner.”

‘‘I think that planted the idea in my head: to explore first dates through a feature,” Ekanayake says, noting that ‘‘ultimately all scripts for my movies ... emerge out of the process of writing.”

Still, he maintains, ‘‘I actually write scenes for movies without thinking too much about themes.”

Ekanayake insists that his goal in making ‘‘Date Number One” was ‘‘pretty simple: [to] make an interesting and entertaining fictional movie about several people on first dates, and explore their lives prior to and after the date in some cases.

‘‘I kept the focus on that simple level, and did not dwell too deep into identifying any themes that I wanted to explore when I was writing the script.” Interestingly, however, he points out, reviewers have remarked upon ‘‘certain persistent ideas in the movie — such as the fact that the film is populated by people from various backgrounds and there is no serious conflict and tension among them due to their ethnicity, race, whatever [their] backgrounds.”

Ekanayake acknowledges that what the critics noted is ‘‘stuff that I am concerned about in rest of [my] life, but did not seek to focus on directly in this film.”

The filmmaker concludes that ‘‘Art can, and does, often reflect values of its creators even if those values are not clearly and directly addressed.”

‘‘Date Number One” is Ekanayake’s fourth film project since the Sri Lanka-born 1991 Seneca Valley High School graduate opted at age 18 to pursue a career in film. He made ‘‘Fresh Coffee,” a 15-minute drama in 1991, followed by a comedy ‘‘Wild Diner” (inspired by Silver Spring’s Tastee Diner) in 1999, and a performance video ‘‘Capital Heartbreak and Sweetness: 17 D.C. Poets” in 2002.

He studied film production for a semester at Columbia College in Chicago, and took a production class at Montgomery Community Television a few years ago. But for Ekanayake, formal education was not the appropriate route to his art.

Instead, he says, ‘‘I watched a lot of movies, read about movies and movie making, and worked on over a dozen film and video projects, including my own.”

‘‘Film is like music (let’s say rock),” the filmmaker insists. ‘‘Formal study at an institution is not required for success; you just have to practice and put out good work.”

He cites filmmakers Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, Jon Moritsugu and especially Jim Jarmusch (who ‘‘pretty much created the American independent film industry with his 1984 film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’”) as well as the French film ‘‘Amelie” as inspirations.

‘‘But,” Ekanayake says, ‘‘the content of my films is invented out of observations and reflection on my real life, my own direct experiences. The films and filmmakers I mentioned have offered some clues as to how stories may be told in unusual ways through a movie.”

He also credits the digital film movement known as Dogme 95, books by Jack Kerouac and Tom Robbins, and music by D.C. punk musicians Fugazi and The Nation of Ulysses as influences.

The war in his native Sri Lanka is a major source of his thinking, Ekanayake points out.

‘‘It made me question all aspects of human relations: how humans try to relate to one another, what manner of ideas, mythologies and propaganda are used to achieve certain tribal, ethnic or national goals, how old and powerful and evil ideas can be dealt with and stopped,” he says.

It’s not as pure and simple as he would have his viewers — and perhaps even himself — believe.

‘‘Overall,” Ekanayake observes, ‘‘being a filmmaker, an artist, has been a good excuse to study the entire human experience on earth in all its fascinating detail.

The filmmaker plans to continue making and distributing movies, very likely with the D.C. and Montgomery County settings he used in three of his four films.

‘‘I live here, and have lived here for a long time [since 1985], so I know people and places here. Out of that familiarity, I can invent stories for movies. This area is an easy place for me to work,” he explains.

That the area is not an industry capital pleases him, too.

‘‘I like the fact that it is not film production biz saturated as the L.A. area or New York City area. There is space here to think and invent and build new things when it comes to filmmaking and distribution. There is also plenty of space here to become a pioneer and develop new aspects of the art and the business — and that’s always exciting to me.”

‘‘Date Number One” will be shown nightly at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Wednesday, July 18, in the Kensington Armory, 3710 Mitchell St. Admission is $7. Visit